The NFC’s Three Best Teams

Three teams in the NFC are playing at a legitimate Super Bowl-caliber level. Here’s a look at the Rams, Saints and Panthers…

Los Angeles Rams (8-1): Todd Gurley is the focal point of the offense, running and receiving. The receivers are deep and well-balanced. Robert Woods leads the way, Brandin Cooks stretches the field and Cooper Kupp is a terrific #3. Jared Goff oversees it all and while he needs to cut back the mistakes a tad, he’s close to an MVP level. Defensively, tackle Aaron Donald is overwhelming and he’s joined by Ndamakong Suh.

And don’t overlook how good this offensive line is, led by left tackle Andrew Whitworth. If there’s any weaknesses, they’re to be found in pass coverage. Marcus Peters is having a poor year at corner and the show Drew Brees put on against the Rams on Sunday could be duplicated in the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints (7-1)
The first players to think about on offense are tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Both have been outstanding. When the pocket is protected from the outside, no one will stop Drew Brees. The future Hall of Famer is having the year of his life. Running back Alvin Kamara continues to rack up rushing and receiving yards. And the Saints are an offensive machine.

Where the machine could get fouled up is pressure up the middle, where the line is weaker. Defensively, New Orleans has a problem in the secondary. The X-factor will be defensive end Cameron Jordan. He’s having a good-but-not-great year. If he plays great in the biggest games, that will allow the Brees-led offense to put the Saints over the top.

Carolina Panthers (6-2)
Christian McCaffrey has really emerged and he joins Gurley and Kamara in making a versatile running back the common thread among the NFC’s three best teams. When you look at Cam Newton’s numbers, they aren’t spectacular. But they’re steady and when you combine his running ability, he has to be given credit for taking an offensive cast that’s really rather average and consistently above-average production.

The defense is a similar story. There’s a couple of really good players in Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker and Kawaan Short at defensive tackle. But the rest of the D is marked more by the fact that they’re “not terrible” rather than that they standout. That’s been enough for Ron Rivera to produce a pretty good unit.